The simmering tension between the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and the Executive is descending into frightening levels. In a democratic state where non-governmental institutions such as LAZ are charged with the responsibility of safeguarding people’s constitutional liberties and freedoms, we find the political rebuttals by the Executive to every legal argument LAZ presents very disturbing. We feel it is within the mandate of LAZ to interpret the law as an instrument of social order and social justice and as an essential element in the growth of society. Therefore, it is not fair to accuse LAZ of playing politics whenever they speak.
In fact, we don’t think LAZ is playing politics at all, but the President is. We say this because the incumbent Head of State has been a member of the LAZ council that did more controversial things than what the Kasonde-led executive is doing.
In March 1999, the LAZ council comprising President Lungu, and current Supreme Court and High Court judges invited United Party for National Development president Anderson Mazoka who addressed the association’s annual ball held in Lusaka. This angered some ordinary LAZ members and some political players who felt it was wrong for the executive to invite a leader of the opposition party to grace its event, but the LAZ leadership remained resolute.
“Are we not fair then to invite the president of an upcoming political party? Why shouldn’t we invite the opposition? Some of our members have been asking ‘why invite Mazoka?’ The council decided to invite president Mazoka because we feel that we can share some ideas on the governance, development and future of our country.” These were the words used by the men and women of honour who defended LAZ then. They protected LAZ from political attacks and posterity rewarded them handsomely – judging by where President Lungu is sitting today.
George Kunda who spoke on behalf of the executive ended up being Vice-President of this country. Other LAZ council members of 1999 are still climbing the ladder of integrity. Mumba Malila SC and Michael Musonda SC are now Supreme Court judges, Charles Kajimanga is now High Court judge together with Dr justice Winnie Sithole Mwenda who was recently promoted by President Lungu.
These men and women knew that it was the responsibility of LAZ to not only interpret the law but also defend human rights and freedom of association. We are wondering what would happen to the current LAZ if they hosted Hakainde Hichilema, the president of the same political party that the 1999 LAZ invited to its annual ball.
That is why we feel, although the rift between LAZ and the Executive is not a new phenomenon, the current LAZ is facing unique persecution by nature of its unique leadership and the prevailing political environment.
We say unique because LAZ has never been headed by a female president until now, and we cannot completely ignore the possibility that the heightened State intolerance of this institution is a consequence of that fact. It is important to highlight the gender aspect because the unpleasant history of gender biases, stigmatisation and sexualisation of women successes is well documented in Zambia. If we are serious about gender equality as a country, we should constantly be interrogating our actions while protecting ourselves from being double-minded. Sufficient progress has been made in achieving the gender parity goals, especially under the PF government where we have witnessed the first female Inspector General of Police and first female Vice-President, among others, but we should never lose focus and surrender the gains to the whims of political expediency.
Linda Kasonde’s ascendency to the helm of the Law Association of Zambia was not without controversy and her reign thus far has been characterized by mostly male politicians casting aspersions about her competency. Not only has she survived impeachment but her executive has also been threatened with disbandment and there are efforts in motion to establish a parallel association. Therefore, these destabilising activities against her reign are too convenient to be a coincidence.
The state cannot always be giving political interpretations to every criticism from LAZ and other government stakeholders because governance is not a sole responsibility of the ruling party.
In her press statement, the LAZ president made it clear that her association would seek legal recourse from the courts of law IF AND WHEN it is established that the Constitution was being flouted during the implementation of the Threatened State of Emergency. Ms Kasonde NEVER said the grounds for declaring a Threatened State of Emergency were baseless, she never said the Head of State breached the law. Instead, she encouraged those who wanted clarification on whether the basis for invoking Article 31 were sufficient to get that interpretation from court, not LAZ. How can that be termed as abusing the legal association to advance political motives?
The least the Head of State could have done was to challenge LAZ to go ahead and approach the courts of law – not to ask them to form a political party.
When President Lungu challenged LAZ to form a political party, it was left to our imagination what would happen to the Patriotic Front if that happened. We wondered if the PF would survive if all those who were being challenged to form political parties took the challenge. No doubt, heads would roll, but we are not encouraging LAZ to float a candidate at the next elections. We believe that professional institutions should be depoliticised and allowed to apply their intellectual conscience to social matters.